Gap year - A Year Out - Leaving school
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Gap Year

Filling a Gap! - Get the most out of your Gap Year

A year out between leaving school or college and going to university or starting a job - a gap year - will certainly be the first and may be the only chance you have to fill a whole year with activities that you have planned in order to fulfil your personal ambitions.

You need to seize the chance now. A successful gap year needs thought and planning. This article will introduce you to the planning process and offer some thoughts as to what you might do and what you should be seeking to achieve. It offers no easy solutions. Planning a well-structured gap year is hard work but the rewards will be worth it. A gap year can change your life!

How do you start?
Other Views
What can I do?
Where can I go?
Useful Websites:
Useful Books:

How do you start? Top

First take a good look at yourself. I mean a really good look at yourself. Ask yourself:

  • What have I done with my life?
  • Where am I now and where do I want to go?
  • Why do I want to take a gap year?
  • What do I want to achieve as a result of my gap year?
  • How will it help me at university? Most important of all,
  • How can I use my gap year to help me secure the job I really want?

Look at your strengths and weaknesses and then try to work out how you can plan your year to build on your strengths and reduce your weaknesses. It is for this reason that a gap year is a very individual affair so find the time to think through these questions. By all means bounce ideas off family, friends and others who you think may help but this is your year and the decisions must be yours and yours alone. Jot down your thoughts on paper. Better still start a diary so that you have a permanent reference of what should be the best year of your life.

A gap year actually lasts fifteen months, from July to September the following year. It is a long time and careful research and detailed planning is essential if you are to make the most of the time available. Ideally you should have the main items planned and confirmed before you start your final year at school.

Obstacles Top

Don't expect your planning to go smoothly. Family friends and others will raise many doubts in your mind:

  • Will your course still be available a year on? Will there still be a place for you?
  • Will you able to get back into the habit of studying when you return?
  • Can you afford to take a gap year?
  • Won't you fall behind your peer group?

There is no need to be put of by these concerns. They need some thought and checking them out will take time and effort, but you will find a way through. Just be thankful that you started planning early.

Other Views Top

Parents. Your parents' primary concerns will be for your safety and happiness. They will be interested in your finances and the effect your gap year will have on your future studies and employment. Take heed of their concerns, keep them informed and get them involved when the occasion arises.

Teachers. Teachers will be supportive if they feel that you have thought through the issues and plan to use the time effectively. If they think you are just intending to take " a year out rather than a year off", then they will give you a hard time, as will everybody else! Use the careers staff or local careers office. They should have lots of information available and be able to offer valuable advice.

Universities. On balance students who take a gap year arrive fresh, are more focussed on their studies and more likely to complete their course. Some take time to settle back into study mode but this is compensated by the fact that they have learned to look after themselves. University tutors are therefore usually sympathetic to those who ask to take a gap year. Whatever their views you will have to defer your studies for a year. The best way is to apply for your course this year using the deferred entry system offered by UCAS.

Employers. Many think that your potential employer is the most important person to hold in mind throughout the planning and execution of your gap year. I agree. You are trying to create "Me plc", someone whose skills, experience and personality are apparent in a CV and confirmed during interview. Employers know that those who have completed a well-structured gap year are more likely than others to have the skills they seek. Your will need to be able to draw on the experiences of your year, to articulate what lessons you learned and explain how these will help you with the job in question. This is where a diary is really useful.

What can I do? Top

The opportunities are endless and far too many to mention in one short article. There are many organisations that provide well-structured gap year programmes that cover courses and cultural exchanges, expeditions, volunteering and structured work placements. In the time available you can either concentrate on one aspect or try a mixture, turning to paid work (to raise funds) or independent travel before, between or after each activity as needs dictate. The trick is to select activities that best meet your needs.

Courses and cultural exchanges offer abundant opportunities to acquire a new skill, or hone an old one. You can also immerse yourself in a country and gain a real understanding of its people and culture.

Expeditions are the most demanding physically and mentally. On an expedition you can gain experience in project and risk management, gain experience of working in a team and learn how you react under stress. Scientifically orientated expeditions can provide valuable hands on experience that can be a vital element in securing a job later.

Volunteering can be most rewarding. It will help develop your communication skills and may lead to the acquisition of new skills possibly leading to new career opportunities. The opportunities are so numerous that very careful research is needed to select the placement that best suits your needs.

Structured work differs from straightforward employment in that a specialist organisation will have a number of job opportunities available and will seek to place you to the mutual advantage of both you and the providing organisation. This is an excellent way to obtain hands on experience in a field of work that interests you.

Where can I go? Top

Mention a gap year and people immediately think of travel. In fact it is quite possible and can be just as rewarding to spend your whole time in UK and far cheaper too!

Finance Top

Funding your gap year will need careful planning. There is no need for your year to be exorbitantly expensive but if you plan to travel you will have to raise funds. If you decide to go with an organisation then most will offer advice as to how best to raise the necessary funds. Be imaginative, explore every avenue, be prepared to work long hours in menial jobs and start saving now!

A gap year should be the most exciting and rewarding year of your life. It is your year to do what you want to do. It is important that you bear in mind the principle that what you do should enhance your future prospects. When you return begin to think through what you have learned and how best to put this across to future employers. As you secure that first job you will know that all that planning was worthwhile and in addition to having a lot of fun you achieved your goals. Years from now you will still be drawing on your gap year experiences. Good Luck!

The Year Out Group

The Year Out Group is an association of leading year out organisations to promote the benefits of well-structured year out programmes, to promote models of good practice and to help young people select suitable and worthwhile projects. Students will find the Student Guidelines a helpful tool when planning their gap year.

Article by: Richard Oliver

Useful Websites: Top Gap year organisations and guidance Essential advice before setting off Work opportunities abroad Everything for the independent traveller Expedition vacancies and organisations Database for volunteering opportunities

Useful Books: Top

Taking a Year Off by Val Butcher. Published by Trotman (ISBN 0-85660-522-2)

The Gap Year Guidebook. Published by Peridot Press (ISBN 0-9527572-6-5)

Planning your Gap Year by Mark Hempshell. (ISBN 1-85703-387-6)

A Year Off..A Year On. Published by Lifetime Careers (ISBN 1-902876-01-6)

Taking a Gap Year by Susan Griffith (ISBN 1-85458-258-5)




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